Why do I let North Dakota do this to me every season?
Somewhere around the middle of the season, I start to look past UND when thinking about the race for the WCHA’s MacNaughton Cup and which teams will be best equipped to make a run in the NCAA tournament.
Then the Sioux go on a tear and make everyone forget about the first half of the season. Guess what, folks: It’s happening again.
A 4-3 overtime victory over Colorado College on Sunday has the Sioux on the verge of the WCHA regular season title, and it would be their first under coach Dave Hakstol. They have a one-point lead over Denver and a game in hand on the Pioneers going into the last weekend of the regular season.
A victory Friday at Wisconsin puts the Sioux over the top before Denver even gets a chance to play on the final weekend; the Pioneers play Colorado College on Saturday. North Dakota needs only a point at Wisconsin or CC holding Denver to a tie or loss to claim the top spot in the WCHA playoffs.
But when the Sioux entered 2009 under .500 overall (9-10-1) and just a game over .500 in league play (6-5-1), why would we have thought they would be a factor come March? Looking back on it, we just ignored history in starting to ignore the Sioux.
Last year, they were 9-8-1 before closing the regular season with a 17-game unbeaten streak.
Two years ago, they were 9-11-1 after a Jan. 5 loss to Colorado College, then lost only once in the rest of the regular season.
This season, North Dakota exited the Christmas break on a sour note, dropping 2-1 decisions to both Michigan State and Michigan Tech at the Great Lakes Invitational. The fourth-place finish in the four-team tournament put the Sioux at 9-10-1 and in a deep hole when it comes to the PairWise Rankings — they didn’t even qualify at that point because they were 28th in the RPI.
Since that weekend, North Dakota is 12-1-3 (10-1-3 in league play) and has moved up to seventh in the PairWise and RPI.
There’s a long way to go before we start talking about a fifth straight Frozen Four appearance for the Sioux, but right now I wouldn’t pick against them in the first two rounds of the tournament.